WGU Academy partners with Suazo Business Center to provide college readiness to Utah’s underserved communities

 WGU Academy announced today a partnership with Suazo Business Center that will provide Utahns from Hispanic/Latino and other under underserved communities with college-readiness education scholarships. The pilot initiative will allow 20 students to earn transferrable college credits while also completing skills training that builds confidence, resiliency and self-guided study habits needed to succeed in higher education.

The partnership and pilot initiative will officially launch on Feb. 1 with an introductory event at 10 a.m. at Suazo Business Center’s headquarters, 960 W 1700 S, in Salt Lake City. WGU Academy and Suazo Business Center officials will be joined by some of the scholarship grant recipients, who will share their stories with community leaders and dignitaries in attendance. The students begin classes at WGU Academy on Feb. 1, and the program typically takes two to three months to complete. 

“Even before the pandemic, underserved, minority and rural communities faced too many barriers in accessing higher education—but access isn’t enough,” said Chris Lee, President of WGU Academy. “The college-readiness gap faced by students from underserved communities has widened considerably in recent decades, and through this partnership we want to develop students locally by equipping them with the confidence, social and emotional skills, and mindset to reach their academic and career goals.”

A shared focus on pathways to opportunities for underserved communities led WGU Academy and Suazo to unite, and a gift from the Sorenson Legacy Foundation will fund tuition for students in the pilot program. Students who are successful in WGU Academy will be eligible for scholarships to attend WGU, and WGU Academy and Suazo will collaborate on qualitative research to help assess the effectiveness of the initiative.

“Suazo has focused on economic mobility for our underserved communities since 2002. The primary means of doing that has been through entrepreneurship and small business development. Being able to partner with WGU Academy to expand our reach and incorporate workforce development through higher education is a great step forward,” said Silvia Castro, Executive Director of Suazo Business Center. “This partnership will not only help further the education of the students in the pilot initiative, but also has the potential to provide a foundation of success for many more students in the coming years. It can also help lift up entire communities as it’s scaled. Education and access to resources is necessary to help underserved communities gain necessary skills for a changing workforce and to help end the cycles of poverty that plague underserved communities.”

WGU Academy was formed by Western Governors University (WGU) as an independent nonprofit organization to support underprepared and underserved students enrolling with WGU and other institutions across the nation. Suazo Business Center, a fellow Salt Lake City-based nonprofit, shares a dedication of preparing underserved students—predominantly from Hispanic/Latino and other underserved communities—to overcoming barriers to success, whether that is in advancing their education, preparing for a changing workforce, or starting their own business.

While most college readiness efforts focus on remedial preparation for math and language skills, WGU Academy goes beyond that to include transferable college-level courses and the Program for Academic and Career Advancement, or PACA, which has been proven to boost retention and persistence rates among underserved student populations. After successful completion of the WGU Academy courses, the 15 students will automatically be admitted to Western Governors University to continue their path toward a college degree.